Sat Jul 10 02:25:38 UTC 2004

Arlo Griffiths wrote:

> The article on Vedic p.rdaakusaanu- by A. Lubotsky in the most recent
> issue of IIJ (47.1, spring 2004) contains some information that might
> be of interest to you. [snip]
 Thanks for the reply -- I'll take a look at the article you mention.

Perhaps it would help if I explained in a little more detail my interest in
snakes.  In the Tibetan & Chinese translations of a sutra on which I am
working, mention is made of four snakes -- which from the context are
clearly understood as actual snakes.  This tradition of four dangerously
venomous snakes is found in numerous Buddhist sources from the Agamas
onwards but they are never named individually.  However, apart from my text,
the Lankavatara-sutra does mention what I think are the actually a set of
names -- slightly different to my list -- for these four snakes, although
Suzuki and others have taken them to be adjectival descriptions.  Now, in my
text three of the four Tibetan names can be recontructed as aa`,, naaga.  An aa` is some kind of viper (Russell's or
sawtooth) and naaga should be one of the cobras.  But I am having a problem
with the fourth name -- bya-gag.  This is, of course, the common Tibetan
word for a "chicken" and not a snake !  I assume some kind of scribal error
or misreading has taken place.  The Chinese parallel does not help since it
gives a couple of snake names, but then just "etc" -- a common ploy used
when Chinese translators were stumped by flora / fauna not having a
counterpart in China.
If it is commonplace knowledge today that the four most deadly snakes in
India are the Russell's viper, the common krait, the cobra (I don't have my
notebook to hand specifying which one) and the saw-scaled viper, I think it
reasonable to believe that the four deadly snakes mentioned by my text and
the LA-sutra are the same set of four.  I have a feeling that the Tibetan
"bya-gag" is the common krait, a name derived from Hindi "karait" but I
wonder if there was ever an older Skt form for this word which then
erroneously metamorphosed into kukku.ta or kurku.ta in my text.  FYI,
Tibetan "bya-gag" is also recorded for "k.rmi", "nakulii" (a vague snake
connection here), "baka" and " 'saalika".
An alternative possibility that occurs to me is that the "bya" in "bya-gag"
is a really a transcription of Skt "vya" (a well-attested transcription
form) and the "gag" was orginally a  transcription for something different
but fairly close phonetically, that has been wrongly "corrected" by some
TIbetan editor to a familiar but nonsensical "bya-gag" -- but I can't find
anything that would fit.  Hence my plea for help -- though judging by the
poor response to my original enquiry, snakes don't seem to a strong point
for scholars on this Indology list.  So, now I have given more information,
perhaps somebody might have some ideas for me.

Best wishes,
Stephen Hodge

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